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Marketers Wake Up (Or Try to)

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Advertising professionals and marketing experts are turning to the crowd for ideas. This is not exactly new, since social media campaigns and Twitter blasts have become part of most marketers' arsenals.

But within the past week, I've seen stories about how a movie company, a car organization and a major automobile manufacturer are actively seeking input from fans in the creation of new campaigns.

Now, these might seem somewhat interesting developments, taken one by one. But together they seem, at least to me, to indicate a shift in thinking among marketers. It's less hype (though that will never go away in advertising) and more connection. This is in keeping with our current social attitude: We crave not only connection, but a sense of community and a hunger for reality. It's one of the hallmarks of what my co-author Roy H. Williams and I call a "We" cycle, in our book "Pendulum."

We identified a recurring trend in society in research for our book, where we combed through 3,000 years of cultural and political history, finding that society shifts between approximate 40-year "We" cycles and 40-year "Me" cycles.

In a "We" cycle, people want it real, raw and relevant, and they think less in terms of what's in it for themselves and more about how their small actions can affect the common good. A "Me" cycle is more about glorifying individual achievements, hero-worship and extreme self-expression. (This was evident in the 1960s through the 1990s, for example.)

Our current "We" cycle began in 2003, and though a part of you may feel that such trends as social media, with Instagram updates, banal Twitter posts, look-at-me photos on Facebook and such, feeds into an earlier era's narcissistic tendencies, if you step back you'll see how people are doing these seemingly insignificant things (and risking public humiliation for being themselves online) because they want to connect. Even virtually. This is not an age of scrap-booking and private journals. It's of public record-keeping. Even silly cat videos have a place in a "We" cycle: they help us connect even through a shared "aw."

Now, about those marketing campaigns from NASCAR, Ford Motor Company and the sixth installment of Fast and Furious. All concern finding out what fans think and working with those opinions and that crowd-sourced creativity. The thing is, our current cycle began a decade ago. Where were the forward-thinking marketers back then? They were stuck in an earlier era. Marketing is often catch-up. Artists are more ahead of the curve.

If you want to be a better marketer, then, think like an artist and anticipate what society really wants to hear, see, feel and do.

But at least today's better marketers are finally waking up to that often-overlooked audience: Us.